Law blog roundup

Yellow SubmarineWelcome to Monday, the 45th anniversary of the U.S. release of The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” album.

– I heard a great new investment tip: Lawsuits.

– NSA’s lawyer offers unreserved defense of surveillance program.

– Arkansas school-desegregation litigation nears settlement after 25 years.

– Alabama attorney general proposes expediting death-penalty appeals.

Law blog roundup

DetroitWelcome to the first Tuesday in September. Here are some news items to get this post-Labor Day week started.

– An American city tries to emerge from bankruptcy.

– China holds an open trial.

– What is the most dangerous position in football? Inquiring workers’ compensation lawyers want to know.

– Did Chicago’s Metra invite a lawsuit?

Top 5: ‘This whole case was a tragedy of cataclysmic dimension’

Brendan Kearney’s story on the Baltimore County music teacher wrongfully arrested on child sexual abuse charges dominated last week’s list of the most-read stories by The Daily Record’s legal team.

1. Settlement terms revealed in wrongful arrest case
On the morning of Nov. 29, 2007, Yakov Shapiro was preparing for a day of family and music — his two great loves — when there was a knock at the door of his Germantown home.

2. Senate confirms Hollander, Bredar to U.S. District Court
“It’s the fulfillment of a dream from my days as a law clerk,” said Ellen L. Hollander, who in the mid-1970s worked for U.S. District Judge James R. Miller Jr. of Baltimore. James K. Bredar, when he takes the judicial oath, will become the first former federal public defender to sit on the federal bench in Maryland — a slice of history he deeply appreciates.

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Updates on the secret Shapiro settlement

Keith Merryman

Keith Merryman

While Baltimore City Solicitor George A. Nilson and Steven Kupferberg, the attorney for mistakenly arrested violinist Yakov Shapiro, still differ as to the origin of the confidentiality of their settlement, allow me to offer a few updates related to the case.

There’s been a strong reader reaction to the story of Shapiro’s travail — which started when a detective investigating claims of child molestation by Yisroel Shapiro posted a warrant for Yakov Shapiro — and the city’s efforts to keep it quiet. While many Baltimore elected officials have kept to themselves about the questions the case raises about government transparency and training at the police department, a few city council members have spoken up:

  • Baltimore City Councilwoman Belinda Conaway, who has taken an interest in the costs of police negligence, said last summer she understood the need for such a confidential settlement “under extraordinary circumstances, once in a blue moon.” But, she said, “this should not happen again anytime soon.” Last week, after finally hearing the details of the Shapiro case, her first reaction was “Oh my God.”

“It’s a terrible, terrible thing to happen and I would hope the necessary steps are taken so something like this doesn’t happen again,” she said. “A settlement is nice but there’s no way that that settlement can undo the damage that was done.”

“If we could all walk away from this with one lesson learned, I would hope that it would be a shared recognition of the importance of transparency in government proceedings,” Henry wrote in an e-mail Wednesday evening. “Perhaps the Board of Estimates needs to develop a better policy of how to deal with confidentiality concerns when allocating City funds. Perhaps we should be trying to record and broadcast not only the actual Board of Estimates proceedings, but the mini-meetings ahead of time when more detailed briefings are given for many of the issues before the Board.

“The Administration has claimed to be supportive of this initiative of the Council President’s (recording and broadcasting B/E meetings, Liquor Board hearings, and BMZA hearings),” Henry continued, “but also claims to be unable to come up with the operating funds needed – less than $50K – leading to the reasonable suspicion that they must be sufficiently comfortable with the status quo.”

Mr. Kupferberg has shielded Yakov Shapiro from press inquiries but he described his client’s reaction to the stories published in yesterday’s paper.

“Yakov was in here today, and I asked him if he wanted to speak to you and he started to cry,” Kupferberg said by phone from his office. “I showed him the story, and he just teared up.”

One detail I wasn’t able to determine before we published Tuesday evening was the identity of the judge who presided over Shapiro’s bail review that November morning three years ago. Well, it seems the voice on the recording was that of C. Yvonne Holt-Stone. According to an e-mail from Baltimore City District Court Administrative Judge John R. Hargrove Jr., Judge Holt-Stone was on the schedule for that morning at Central Booking, where Hargrove says Shapiro’s bail review took place. Holt-Stone, who has been on the city district court bench since 1991 is on leave through the end of the year and could not be reached to confirm her part in the case.

The other person I’ve yet to hear from is Baltimore City Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III. He was at the White House yesterday and is out of the office through Christmas, according to his spokesman.

I’m less optimistic about ever hearing from Detective Keith Merryman (who posted the warrant for Yakov Shapiro instead of the real offender, Yisroel Shapiro) or police lawyer Neal M. Janey Jr., who negotiated the settlement, but stay tuned on those fronts.

Artist's court sketch of Yisroel Shapiro (left, with glasses and Kippah)

Finally, if you’re interested in learning more about Yisroel Shapiro and how his misdeeds came to light in the generally close-knit and tight-lipped Orthodox Jewish community, have a look at Standing Silent, a documentary that will premier at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival in February. Phil Jacobs, the executive editor of the Baltimore Jewish Times who has covered the topic extensively, stars in the film.

Thanks for reading and Happy Holidays!

This Week in Maryland Lawyer

mdlawyer323.jpgWhat effect will the Supreme Court’s ruling on drug-label warnings, Wyeth v. Levine, have in the state’s trial courts? While it will undoubtedly move cases forward, lawyers in Maryland don’t expect a flood of new litigation. As one noted, “There hasn’t been this huge holding back” by trial lawyers here.

MICPEL, already struggling with the economy, faces a new hurdle: replacing its longtime executive director, Brent Burry, who will return to his native South Carolina next month.

In other news:

  • Med-mal defense litigators at Whiteford, Taylor & Preston will be leaving for Hodes, Pessin & Katz in the coming weeks;
  • The top court dismissed Bar Counsel’s action against a Tydings partner who billed the firm for the fair market value of flights he purchased with frequent-flier miles;
  • Bankruptcy lawyers continue to switch firms — and some have formed a new Annapolis boutique firm;
  • Investors suing golf-course developer Neal Trabich haled both him and his former attorney into court in a discovery dispute. (The judge found no fault with the “experienced, highly talented and widely respected” Andrew Radding, but withheld judgment on Trabich); and
  • The new U.S. Attorney General, Eric H. Holder Jr., was in Baltimore on Friday to address the National District Attorneys Association’s board of directors.

In Verdicts and Settlements, a former tenant was awarded $10,000 in attorneys’ fees for defending against retaliatory back-rent suits by her landlord. (Also, see this story about the settlement of a suit between rival car dealerships.)

Three years out of school, Alicia N. Ritchie may be a young lawyer, but she’s already an old hand at pro bono representation.

In Opinion/Commentary, Our Editorial Advisory Board looks at the shadow banking industry, while DLA Piper’s Jack Machen outlines what’s right and what’s wrong with Baltimore’s green-building ordinance.

PLUS: On the Move, Briefs/Week in Review and our weekly Law Digest of cases from the Maryland appellate courts and the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Deal or no deal?

The New York Times had this story last week comparing rejected settlement offers to awards in more than 2,000 trials. In a nutshell:

  • 61 percent of the plaintiffs lost money by going to trial.
  • For the defendants, going to trial was the right call three times out of four.
  • The cost of being wrong was much greater for defendants, though: an average of $1.1 million, compared to about $43,000 for the plaintiffs.

The findings come from a soon-to-be-published study in Cornell’s Journal of Empirical Studies.

What do you think, trial lawyers? Defense bar? Should law schools offer a course in handicapping cases?

BARBARA GRZINCIC, Managing Editor/Law